the gift is in the visit

The Visitation Mariotto Albertinelli 1503,

It’s the time of year for visiting and joy-filled celebrations. It’s the time for groaning tables, over-flowing glasses, and good cheer all around.

Visiting is my favorite part of the season. But, it can also be the most stressful. Each year I vow to simplify things. But simplicity never seems to come. Christmas comes with its own great expectations. It’s the grand dame of holidays, the stuff of family memories and legends. And, the grand dame must be appeased!

One of my favorite Food Network shows is Dinner Party Wars. I’m not a fan of reality shows, but I do enjoy this one. Three couples take turns hosting a dinner party. They are judged on their food and the quality of their hospitality. Spending excess time on fancy food preparation at the expense of time with your guests is a big no-no. Snobbery and self-centered conversations will lose you points as will being an ungracious host or an ungracious guest. Having the fanciest place-setting or the most pretentious meal will not guarantee you a win. Simple food cooked well while providing a warm, congenial atmosphere will. And, that’s why I like it!

The beautiful story of the Visitation, reminds us of the deeper truth in the act of visiting. We see Mary leaving the comfort and security of her home after receiving the life-altering news of her pregnancy. The journey must have been filled with fears, hardships and worries. Yet she headed out to visit her much older cousin, Elizabeth, in her time of need. She went to help, but perhaps also for moral and sisterly support. The image of the two women joyfully greeting each other, while babes leap in the wombs brings gladness to all hearts. Elizabeth wouldn’t have known that Mary was coming. How would she? She did not have time to put flowers on the front table or prepare a fancy dessert. All that was needed was open arms and a welcoming embrace.

It is a sign of hospitality to have home and hearth ready and prepared for guests. It is a sign of friendship and love to gather around the table to share a great meal and conversation. But the heart of hospitality is grounded in presence. And, the true gift lies in the visit.